Prepared Remarks of Secretary Shaun Donovan at the National Congress of American
Indians' 2012 Executive Council Winter Session

Washington, D.C.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Thank you, Ron, for that warm welcome. And I'd like to thank NCAI for your leadership.

For nearly 70 years, this organization has been an extraordinary advocate for Indian Country -- and in the Obama Administration, I'm proud to represent a real federal partner for tribal nations.

Since the President took office, we've worked to create a new chapter in the nation-to-nation relationship -- one built not on federal mandates, but on locally-focused thinking, tribal collaboration, and the needs of Native communities.

In short, we're working to ensure that in Washington, Native voices are heard.

It's a commitment you've seen at HUD and throughout the Administration -- from the Recovery Act funding that helped build or repair nearly 50,000 affordable homes in tribal communities, to President Obama's directive for federal agencies to work more closely with tribal leaders, to our interagency work to help Native communities invest and plan for the future.

And nowhere is that commitment clearer than in HUD's proposed 2013 budget, which requests $731 million for Indian Country.

I've seen for myself the difference safe, stable housing can make for Native families. Over the last three years, I've made four trips to Indian Country and native lands -- from Montana to Alaska to South Dakota and New Mexico.

So I know how critical HUD funding is to the housing and infrastructure needs of Native communities. And I've seen how long-term investments help you create an economy built to last.

Make no mistake -- this budget was crafted in a tough fiscal and political environment. And while we were forced to make some tough choices we never would have made under different circumstances, HUD's budget includes some important victories for Indian families and communities.

First and foremost is our commitment to holding funding steady for the Indian Housing Block Grant Program. Building on the unprecedented investment the Recovery Act made, our budget requests $650 million -- a third of which we expect grantees to use to complete the construction, acquisition, and rehabilitation of nearly 6,000 homes.

But just as important as the funding HUD provides is the work we're doing together to make sure that money is spent quickly and effectively.

In our consultations with tribes, you told us how critical it was that we reform the Indian Housing Plan and Annual Performance Report -- for HUD to streamline the planning and reporting process, and move from a grant-based program year to a fiscal year program, as well as get money out the door faster and into the hands of the communities that need it most.

Well, we've responded. And this year, you're going to see those benefits for the first time -- and I'd like to thank Rodger Boyd and his team at HUD's Office of Native American Programs for their work to make it happen.

Indeed, thanks to Rodger's team, we were actually able to start the process to compete for FY 2012 ICDBG funds before Congress had even finalized its budget -- ensuring Native communities could quickly address urgent community development problems like blight or lack of housing options for low-income families.

Of course, HUD's support for Native communities goes beyond rental housing and community development work. To support Native American families who want to become responsible homeowners, this budget funds the Section 184 program at $7 million, which will help more than 3,000 families either buy new homes, or make improvements to their homes.

All told, HUD's overall investment in Native American programs will support over 14,000 jobs in areas where they are needed the most.

So, I'm proud of the work our budget does on behalf of Native communities. But to truly spur growth, we need to respond to the long-term needs of Indian Country.

Take a community like the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota where nearly half of all people live below the federal poverty line.

On the entire 3,400 square mile reservation, there is one grocery store -- and not a single bank.

With those kinds of conditions, it's little wonder that 80 cents out of every dollar tribal families have leaves the reservation -- and so do many families.

For this Administration, that is not acceptable. With support from HUD's Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant program, the Thunder Valley Community Development Corporation and the Oglala Lakota Tribe are developing the region's first economic development plan -- identifying sectors that could be competitive in the regional economy, increasing job training--particularly for young people--and streamlining business regulations to enhance access to capital.

To support places like Pine Ridge across the country that want to plan smarter for the future and spur long-term growth, HUD's proposed budget requests $100 million for additional Sustainable Communities grants.

These efforts recognize that one size doesn't fit all -- and that with a new, smart government approach, we can help Native communities respond to their needs, in ways that work best for them.

And they highlight a central truth -- that to forge a lasting partnership with Indian Country, the Federal government needs to change the way it does business.

That's why HUD responded to President Obama's Executive Memorandum directing every federal agency to work more closely with tribes by holding a series of regional consultations -- in which tribal leaders suggested what we could do to emphasize the government-to-government relationship.

As a result of those sessions, HUD will continue to explore ways we can improve our consultation policy -- and open up new forms of dialogue with tribal nations that reflects a strong government-to-government relationship.

And it's why we're launching a 3-year effort to study the unique housing needs of Indian Country.

For example, we know that in some Indian cultures, when housing is scarce we frequently see overcrowding -- extended families often double and triple up in housing, rather than let family members fend for themselves.

But with our last comprehensive study of Native housing needs now 15 years old, before we can fully respond to those needs, we need a clearer picture of what they are.

With this study, we can begin to develop a long-term and long-overdue economic and community reinvestment strategy. And to ensure that tribal concerns and ideas are incorporated into the study, HUD will hold additional consultations with you throughout this year -- and begin field work in 2013.

Indeed, just two days ago we held our first consultation in Washington -- so that tribal leaders attending the NCAI Meeting would have a chance to make their voices heard. 

I believe this study is an example of how we're not just investing in Native families, as important as that is -- but writing a new chapter in Native American policy that emphasizes inclusion, growth, and creative responses to the needs of tribal communities.

A chapter that makes sure HUD is a better partner to tribal communities -- a partner that engages in better consultation and honors our government to government relationship.

A partner that is working to build a stronger, better America -- where every Native family and community has a fair shot.

So, thank you for this opportunity. Thank you for everything you do. I look forward to continuing our work together in the weeks and months to come.


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